Written by Susan H. Christiansen

Making good decisions is a vital life skill, but how do we begin to teach our children how to gather and understanding information so they can make good decisions?

It’s really about helping your children learn to be more aware of his or her surroundings. The power of observation is an executive function skill that involves focus and processing. Executive functioning involves being able to think through problems instead of just reacting to the stimuli.

Once your kids learn to look for important clues in their environment, they will begin to learn to sift through the information to hopefully make better decisions.

Children who are confident in their decision-making abilities are better able to resist peer pressure and have a more positive outlook for their future.

Gathering More Information

It’s often most important to gather more information before we make a decision. Sometimes we notice a problem or other people tell us about a problem. When we become aware, we actively seek more information to determine whether we need to act.

Gathering information can take many forms:

  • Asking the person who told you of the problem for more information
  • Talking to an adult and asking for advice
  • Using your own eyes to see the problem, if possible.
  • Asking more than one person or source for information about the problem.

We don’t want our kids to be overwhelmed with information. That may cause them to hide, freeze, or act out aggressively. We need to teach them how to focus their mind to process the information they’ve gathered.

Let’s talk about the three main roadblocks to making good decisions and how to avoid them.

Concentration or I-Spy

Activity is happening around us all the time. Most of it doesn’t require our attention. When something does require our attention, we need to be able to stop and give our attention to the interaction.¬†

Teach children the difference between casual and focused concentration. Casual concentration is when we are focused on watching a TV show but also chatting.

Focused concentration is not being distracted when the teacher is giving the assignment by being still, listening without headphones, and staying attentive until the teacher is finished.

Focused concentration can be done in several ways:

  • use your senses to take in information (see, hear, touch, taste, and smell)
  • concentrate especially on what you are seeing, whether looking someone directly in the eye or cataloging the environment
  • concentrate on what you hear and ask questions until you understand it.
  • concentrate until you hear all of the information being presented

Creating Context for Understanding

You can explain this idea to your child as having lots of puzzle pieces that need to be put in order to make a whole picture. This is done by sorting through the information we receive and making sense of it. We put information into categories of understanding based on the environment or circumstance. This is creating context.

Has this happened before? Is it familiar or new information?

Be Thorough

Have you heard all of the information? Kids and grown-ups often hear part of the information and make a decisions or act before understanding all the facts. Teach your child to look at the information from different angles. Ask them to pretend they are in the other child’s shoes. What decision would they make then?

Practical Strategies for Practicing

There are lots of ways to practice these skills throughout the day. Here are a few for you to try:

  • Practice increasing awareness by people-watching at a local park.
  • Have your child think of three things he needs to keep in mind while doing his school today.
  • Have your child read what his chores for the week are repeat them back to you and when they should be done.
  • When a problem arises, ask your child if this problem has happened before? What did you do then? What could you do now?
  • When a student receives a poor grade on an assignment because she turned it in late, have the child tell you what the instructions were and verify that she completed them as assigned.
  • When your child says they don’t know what to do on a school assignment, have them read the instructions to you and tell you what they are supposed to do. Then ask if they have any questions.
  • Ask your child why they don’t get to watch TV in the afternoon. Have them go through the house rules and determine which rules they have not followed and the appropriate consequence. As a bonus, you are not restricting their TV time, the consequence for not following the family rules is no TV.

Be Patient

Using our senses to gather more information takes time to learn. Not only does your children need to learn how to do this, but it takes times to develop the habit. Concentrating, putting things in context, and being thorough to make sure they understand are skills that must be practiced.

¬†And, even when your child does understand this mental process, they may choose to skip it and act on impulse or respond to someone else’s behavior. Making good decisions is a skill that will need to be practiced throughout childhood into adulthood.

Additional resources can be found in the book “Critical Thinking Skills: Success in 20 Minutes a Day,” by Learning Express.

Set a good example and repeatedly help your child practice these skills. It may take a little while to see the results but it will help your kids solve problems and be better decisions makers which will help them in school and relationships.